This Week: School food comes out on COP!

12 November 2021
Today sees both COP26 and National School Meals Week draw to a close. We reflect on some of the excellent work, and what more needs to be done.

This year’s theme for National School Meals Week (NSMW) has been ‘School Tucker Trials’, and what a celebration it has been! We have seen some ravishing roasts and perfect pies, all thanks to the fabulous caterers in schools across the UK. After what has been a challenging couple of years for everyone in school food, it has been wonderful to take the time to reflect on the amazing work that has continued throughout.

The pandemic has given us an opportunity to take stock and has shone a spotlight on the various parts of the school food system that we can improve. School food makes up the biggest proportion of public sector food procurement, and food production contributes about 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, improving school food has the power to not only support the health of our children but the health of our planet too.

Young people get it. Unlike global leaders, inspiring young campaigners such as Patience Nabukalu, Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate understand the urgency of the climate crisis.

It is not overstating the significance of COP26 to say the future of humanity depends on it. And while there are some positives, such as an agreement between the US and China, many believe not enough is being done. Negotiations on a Glasgow Agreement are ongoing with sticking points on coal and finance, and even the UN Secretary General has said COP26 probably won’t achieve its aims. Food has been disappointingly absent from the agenda, and organisers have failed to walk the walk with 60% of the menu containing meat and dairy.

As members of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill Alliance, we call on the UK Government to give the bill the attention it needs. We also urge them to implement fully the recommendations of the National Food Strategy, and undertaking a comprehensive review of the school food system. This will be a positive step towards a better food system for people and planet.

One simple step towards more environmentally friendly menus, is introducing meat-free days. NSMW has led the way, with the Thursday being declared as a plant-based day. If all public caterers in the country followed this lead, we could save over 200,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. This is one reason why we encourage schools in our Healthy Zones programme to consider not serving meat for at least one day each week.

NSMW also realises the importance of dining as an education opportunity. The last day of the celebration is all about teaching children where their food comes from. It is key that the next generation understand they can support a better future by voting with their plates. We understand that school food matters; from farm gate to school plate! 

Through our work in schools, we continue to be inspired by children and those who work with them. If anything has been a School Tucker Trial, it’s the past 18 months of COVID and supply-chain issues. After overcoming that, we believe our school food heroes across the UK can overcome anything!